WASHINGTON – As Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh angrily called the sexual assault allegations against him a "circus" and an effort at "character assassination," President Donald Trump was watching at the White House and was pleased with his aggressive tone, according to administration officials.
Officials who spoke with USA TODAY as the hearing was unfolding said Trump told them he thought Kavanaugh did himself some good in his confirmation battle, administration officials said Thursday.
While Trump himself watched the testimony from the residential section of the White House, officials gathered in White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders' office in the West Wing to watch the proceedings. Another group of officials accompanied Kavanaugh to Capitol Hill to lend assistance.
"We're listening and watching like everybody else," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the hearing was still going on.
Trump had a more formal reaction after the hearing, tweeting that Kavanaugh delivered a "powerful, honest, and riveting" performance, and demanding Senate confirmation.
"Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist," Trump said. "The Senate must vote!"
Kavanaugh, a 53-year-old federal appeals court judge, was at times angry and at times tearful as he professed his innocence to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He vowed to continue fighting for his confirmation, telling Democrats who oppose him "you’ll never get me to quit. Never."
In emotional testimony that took place just before the Supreme Court nominee appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Christine Blasey Ford, 51, told the panel that when she and Kavanaugh were both teenagers, he pinned her to a bed and tried to remove her clothes. Kavanaugh said he "never assaulted anyone.”
In the days leading up to the hearing, Trump had encouraged members of Kavanaugh's team to make the judge more aggressive in fighting the allegations against him, two officials said.
Like many Americans, employees at the White House were riveted on the testimony of Kavanaugh and Ford throughout the day.
In the morning, aides watched with intense silence as Ford told senator she was 100 percent certain that Kavanaugh was the man who sexually assaulted her during a high school party.
By the afternoon, White House officials remained rapt as Kavanaugh angrily denied a variety of allegations, and choked up as he discussed their impact on his family and young daughters. One adviser who had said Kavanaugh might be doomed said the nominee improved his chances with his testimony.
Some aides said tweets from Donald Trump, Jr., summed up the general initial reaction.
"I love Kavanaugh’s tone," the younger Trump said in one post. "It’s nice to see a conservative man fight for his honor and his family against a 35 year old claim with ZERO evidence and lots of holes that amounts to nothing more than a political hit job by the Dems. Others in the GOP should take notice!"
Moving forward, White House officials said the key to Kavanaugh's fate probably rests with three undecided Republican senators: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Jeff Flake.
They predicted that if the three back Kavanaugh, he will be confirmed. Otherwise, Trump may have to consider an alternate plan, those officials said.